We have now officially fully entered the era of the expanded universe.
There is nothing more valuable than established intellectual property in this new global market of 24/7 streaming entertainment, and this year the studios and distributors that own the rights to the most popular and iconic franchises will be maximizing their investments as never before. Nothing that makes money will ever really end, so when Disney and HBO tease epic conclusions to ultra-successful sagas like the new Star Wars sequels, Game of Thrones, and the Avengers, the hype will be a bit misleading… but hardcore geeks probably won’t complain that there are more sequels, spinoffs, and prequels on the way.
So let’s look ahead to this year in geek entertainment, which should offer more of everything you love and new ways to experience it.
Star Wars expands its galaxy
The galaxy far, far away pioneered the expanded universe, and half a decade after jettisoning so many of those multimedia extensions into a nebulous non-canonical twilight zone, Lucasfilm continues to rebuild in groundbreaking ways. By the time the final movie in the sequel trilogy bows at the end of 2019 (December 20, to be exact), the Star Wars universe will have expanded in a number of new directions.
The first live-action Star Wars series, Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, will debut on the upcoming streaming service, Disney+, sometime this fall. The beloved animated series, The Clone Wars, will be revived, also for Disney+. And Galaxy’s Edge, the massive new theme park that will take immersive and interactive storytelling to new heights, will open in Disneyland this summer and at Disney World in Orlando this fall. The books, comics, and toys will continue to be produced at record pace, too. You could spend all of 2019 engaging with only Star Wars and never run out of stuff to read, watch, and experience.
Marvel spoils itself, but who cares?
The downside of massive, record-setting multi-movie success is that sometimes you cannibalize your own storytelling. Sure, Infinity War left us with a bit of a dramatic cliffhanger, but in the back of our minds, we know that the stars of the Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy movies won’t stay dead in Avengers: Endgame — they’ve already got sequels scheduled for beyond that movie’s late April release.
Still, don’t expect those spoilers to temper excitement for the second half of Joe and Anthony Russo’s mega-crossover Marvel event, which hits theaters on April 26.
The upside of massive, record-setting multi-movie success is the way you can use one flick to feed into another. The post-credit stinger on Infinity War indicates that Endgame will have a major role for Captain Marvel, the cosmic jet pilot played by Brie Larson. Before jumping into the Avengers fray, Captain Marvel will of course appear in her solo debut a month earlier (March 8), which should deliver plenty of its own thrills and drive excitement for the Avengers movie.
The next phase of the MCU will begin with Peter Parker’s second solo outing, Spider-Man: Far From Home, which swings into theaters on July 5.
Meanwhile, soon-to-be-Disney-subsidiary Fox will release its next — and perhaps last — two X-Men movies this year: Dark Phoenix finally lands on the big screen on June 7, while the long-delayed and reworked New Mutants debuts on August 2.
DC Comics tries to catch up
Warner Bros. hopes to ride the wave of Aquaman’s unexpected blockbuster success — it should pass $900 million worldwide — with at least two movies this year. Tonally, they couldn’t be more different: Shazam!, starring Zachary Levi, looks like a super-powered rendition of Big, which is certainly a logical 21st-century evolution. That hits theaters on April 5, while six months later, Todd Phillips’ Joker, which looks like American Psycho with a supervillain (also a logical 21st-century evolution), stars Joaquin Phoenix and hits theaters on October 4.
Meanwhile, DC Universe will continue to set the pace for single brand-focused streaming service, starting with a revival of the animated series Young Justice in just a few days. Then it rolls out Doom Patrol on February 15. On The CW, the company’s Arrowverse begins its rendition of the iconic event “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in the fall.
Reboots and weird live-action fur!
The new rule is that if something you loved as a child (or, like, five years ago) hasn’t been resumed, a la Star Wars, it will inevitably be rebooted or otherwise transformed.
Disney leads the way with the repurposing and repackaging of iconic (and sometimes forgotten) properties. On March 29, the company will launch its live-action Dumbo, which boasts a startlingly realistic CGI elephant and a cartoonish Michael Keaton. Two months later, on May 24, Guy Ritchie’s live-action Aladdin will appear on big screens (don’t worry, Will Smith the genie will be blue, you very serious adults).
The “live-action” The Lion King, from the very busy Jon Favreau, will blow minds on July 19. There will be no real animals in this one, but they look real, and one will have Billy Eichner’s voice, so look forward to that.
Seeing beloved animated animals in live-action settings, with uncomfortably realistic fur, will be a running theme throughout 2019. In addition to Dumbo and The Lion King, we’ll see “real” Pokémon for the first time in Detective Pikachu (May 10) and a strikingly muscular, horny Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog (November 8). In a related development, real, tangible suit monsters will go CGI in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31). We’ve seen a computerized Godzilla in several movies, but this will be the first time that Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan get the digital treatment.
This year’s crop of reboots include Pet Sematary (April 5), Hellboy (April 12), Doom (May 17), Child’s Play (June 21), Terminator (November 1), Masters of the Universe (December 18), and Spawn (TBD). Notable among the many, many sequels are The Lego Movie 2 (February 8), John Wick: Chapter 3 (May 17), Men In Black International (June 14), Toy Story 4 (June 21), Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (August 2), It: Chapter 2 (September 6), Zombieland 2 (October 11), Kingsman 3 (November 8), and Frozen 2 (November 22).
Oh, right, projects not based on an existing franchise or toy. Jordan Peele follows his Oscar-winning smash Get Out with the highly anticipated psycho--monster movie Us (March 15), and Brad Pitt stars in James Grey’s space travel drama Ad Astra (May 24).
Heads will roll and blood will flow like mulled wine in the final chapter of HBO's Game of Thrones, which should launch this spring (don't worry, fans, there's a prequel series coming, of course). And as announced right at midnight on New Year's, Netflix's Stranger Things returns on July 4.